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Monday, June 18, 2012

Figuring out a Dutch Word in Church Records

Liz asked about a word in a Dutch church record

I recently found your site while researching some Dutch ancestry for a friend and wondered if you knew what the abbreviations "Get."meant in a birth record

"Elisabeth, d. van Samuel NUTMAN en syn huisvrow (!). Get. Jan Knokkaerd, &ce."
Dear Liz

You can start with a list of translations of words in Dutch church records  at the New Netherland section of Olive Tree Genealogy. Translations of Dutch phrases in Church Records will take you directly there.

However I believe I overlooked the specific abbreviation you asked about. Here is a tip for anyone who can't find a foreign language word in any lists or dictionaries.  Study the record at its source. It always helps to see a record in context and see other records in that record set.  When I say "at its source" I don't necessarily mean you need to see the original record (although that is always best). I mean take a look at the microfilm or online site where you found the record. Look at all the records in that database. Analyze what you see.

Since you didn't tell me where you found this record I searched and  found it online at Studying the other baptisms and births that were recorded with the record you are interested in, and looking at the context of the word, it becomes clear that get. is the abbreviation of the word getuige which means witness, thus the sponsor of the child.

So your record above is simply recording the baptism/christening of Elizabeth, the daughter of Samuel Nutman and his wife (her given name is not recorded). Sponsors are Jan Knokkaerd, etc.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Some Tricks to Deciphering Old Handwriting

Ken asked Olive Tree Genealogy a question about hard-to-decipher handwriting in an 1892 marriage record

I wonder if you could help me. I have attached a small portion of  marriage registration document that occurred in Dresden in 1892. I cannot decipher the word for the grooms residence which appears under "24years" in the image. It looks like Tp Davis or something similar. Can you relate to this location at all and tell me what and where it is?
Ken's question and his effort to read the word in this old document points out the dangers in struggling to interpret letters and character formations without having some clues to help.

My first tip is to look for other words in the document that you recognize. Carefully study the letter formations. Does this unknown word really look like "Davis"? Does the last letter truly look like an "s"?

Next, you can see that the word in question is shadowed. That makes it more difficult to read. It's also a good idea to isolate the word you're struggling to interpret so you can see it without distraction.
My next step was to take a look at the entire page (which I found online on in Ontario Marriages). It was easy to spot another instance of the same word, but in a more legible format. I would have extended my search to pages before and after to try to find another similar or identical word.

It's starting to look pretty clear now that the word might be "Dawn".  "Tp" of course is the abbreviated word "Township". We need to find out if there was a Dawn Township in Kent County in 1892.

Next step is to check Kent County, which is where the marriage took place, to find out what the names of the townships are. Off I went to the Kent County Ontario Genweb site And yes, Dawn Township used to be part of Kent County.

So there we have it. Any time you're faced with a challenging old document that is difficult to decipher, follow these tips:

1. Isolate the word/letters you are trying to read.

2. Try to find the same word or letters on the document or on other documents written at the same time in the same hand. Compare any that you find.

3. Study the word/letters and come up with various ideas for what they might be. Write down all the possibilities.

4. Look for other clues to help narrow down the possibilities. Other clues might be the geographic location as in the case above.

5. Last resort - try tracing the word you're struggling with. Sometimes the letters will suddenly become much clearer.